The online marketplace business model is expanding rapidly, no matter the industry. It is no wonder that many have been interested in marketplace websites, as this is a lucrative venture. Unlike online stores, these platforms connect buyers and sellers as intermediaries.
Because of the slightly different operational model, starting up a marketplace website differs slightly from other eCommerce stores. Technically speaking, a multi-vendor marketplace is more complex to create.
If you're interested in this business, we'll cover some of the major hurdles you must consider to get things moving.
1. Research and Planning
Building a successful marketplace website requires careful research and planning, as it involves a complex web of interdependent factors that you must consider.
Like in other projects, you must perform the necessary due diligence and plan accordingly. Identify your target audience; who will you serve? Knowing your target audience allows you to pinpoint their needs and pain points. Such knowledge will shape your value proposition, the way forward, and the purpose of your marketplace existence.
Carry out profound market research and perform a comparative analysis of direct and indirect competitors. Look into your niche, what you excel in, and what products/services have demand in the market. Choose between a horizontal marketplace approach (varied item types to sell) or a vertical one (a specific niche).
Define your business model to bring you good and stable profit yet with reasonable conditions for your vendors – commission, listing fees, subscription fees, advertising fees, and others. Know your budget and do up a business plan to outline your goals and help you stay on top of things.
The success of your marketplace website heavily relies on how robust and flexible it is to give a positive user experience to both your sellers and buyers. Consider the following functionalities:
- Product listing – comprehensive description of products/services with quality media to complement the buying journey.
- Search and filters – give a noticeable and user-friendly search function with options to filter.
- Shopping cart safeguarded by top-notch security standards.
- Payment options – provide buyers with varied choices of payment options.
- Wishlist/Favorites – buyers keep a list of products they want to buy later.
- Shipping – buyers choose preferred delivery options.
- Security options.
These are the basic functionalities you must have when building a marketplace website.
2. Design and Technology
There’s no standard answer to designing and building a marketplace website for all businesses since each is its own. However, considering crucial factors such as the technical expertise required, budget costs, scalability, customization, and time to market, you should be able to identify the best route.
Parts of a multi-vendor marketplace consist of marketing, eCommerce, payments, taxes, customer support, shipping, and the front end.
Aside from choosing a suitable layout and structure for the front end, prioritizing user experience is equally important. After all, your marketplace website must afford user-friendly and intuitive navigation so the buyers will happily shop and return for more.
Look into design elements, including fonts, colors, textures, icons, and enough spacing to create a pleasant and eye-catching website. Media such as images and videos are high quality and must load speedily. Also, optimize your marketplace website for mobile devices.
You may develop the website yourself or utilize a capable website builder. Some are free, like WordPress and Wix. You can source free WordPress website templates to help you get started fast or choose among the free templates offered by Wix.
Marketplace websites carry multiple vendors. As such, your platform must cater to payments to sellers, suppliers, distributors, partners, and affiliates. Remember, each may need different payment processing requirements; consider this when building your payment system.
Here are some popular payment providers:
- Stripe Connect is a payment provider that makes for easy integration.
- PayPal is an electronic marketplace payment provider that excels in mobile payment.
- Braintree is a payment gateway that emphasizes fraud protection and security features.
A marketplace operator must provide a seamless way for your vendors to ship their products and share the delivery details to the marketplace website. The buyers want to know what's happening and if there are any delays or issues.
Here are some popular shipping providers:
- FedEx – A global giant, FedEx offers end-to-end eCommerce fulfillment direct to your customers' doorstep, handling every aspect of logistical needs.
- DHL – Like FedEx, DHL offers worldwide eCommerce fulfillment. It makes full use of smart technologies to deliver world-class last-mile deliveries.
- UPS – True multichannel eCommerce Fulfilment comes to life here, and UPS even picks and packs on your behalf.
Tax compliance has become increasingly complicated and burdensome for marketplace operators, making it challenging for each operator to navigate and comply. Hence, it makes sense to turn to tax automation software to lift this burden off you and stay tax compliant.
Here is some popular tax automation software:
- Zoho Books helps manage finances and has a module for tax management.
- QuickBooks also includes a tax management module, which helps businesses manage their tax obligations more efficiently.
Customer Support Tools
Providing a reliable and trusted customer service network is essential to the success of marketplace websites. Buyers will only buy from you if they can trust you and know you are reliable. If there is any delivery delay, the buyer needs a refund, or any issues, you need to provide a means for them to contact you and you to reply to them promptly.
Hence, look into customer support tools:
- Zendesk affords seamless and effortless customer experiences through its unified interface.
- Hiver is a customer service help desk designed to work with Google Workspace.
Code From Scratch
You can write the code from scratch if you have mad tech skills. Then, you have complete control and access to the code. This custom-built approach will get you every feature you want. However, this approach takes time, coupled with a larger budget. Also, maintaining and supporting the platform can be taxing and suck you dry.
Still, a custom-coded design can be a good choice in some unique cases. The most important thing is to choose an excellent language to model your website. Standard top picks include PHP or ASP, depending on what you're trying to achieve.
- PHP – Pretty famous today since this scripting language is established and boasts a large community of developers. It's highly compatible with many web servers and hosting platforms.
- ASP – If you're a Microsoft shop, then ASP is the way to go. With the right expertise, this powerful framework can help build powerful applications fairly quickly.
Use an eCommerce Platform
Riding on traditional eCommerce platforms is another approach. You can leverage the underlying proven systems. However, some do not cater to managing multiple sellers or multi-vendor checkout and come with other limitations. Some examples are Shopify, WooCommerce (a free WordPress plugin), and Magento.
As such, you must fill these gaps with custom coding and integrations with various extensions/plugins. However, limit them where possible since overuse can strain your hosting resources.
- Shopify – Although touted as a website builder, Shopify is far more than it seems. You also get a formidable array of eCommerce tools to blast your online marketplace website into the next century.
- WooCommerce – For those who prefer selecting their web host, WooCommerce can help you run the platform aspect with powerful eCommerce features – for free!
Use a Multi-Vendor Marketplace Platform
Many purpose-built multi-vendor marketplace platforms have the tools to reduce the time to launch your marketplace. They provide a complete end-to-end solution to help you get your multi-vendor marketplace up and running fast.
Hence, you don't need to hunt all over the place for the essentials since these multi-vendor marketplace platforms incorporate the best practices with the functionalities marketplaces require.
Some popular multi-vendor marketplace platforms are:
- Nautical Commerce is a multi-vendor Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that unifies commerce, fintech, and logistics.
- Ultra Commerce is an enterprise eCommerce platform for B2B, B2C, and Marketplace.
- Mirakl offers an advanced enterprise marketplace SaaS platform.
- Yo!Kart is noted for its B2B and B2C marketplaces for buyers and sellers.
- Shopify allows you to build a marketplace with Shopify's Marketplace Kit (APIs and documentation).
Whichever way you choose, remember security. The success of your marketplace relies heavily on how secure your platform is. Nobody would buy from a hacked marketplace website, nor would any seller want to sell on a compromised marketplace. Hence, ensure you have top-notch cybersecurity measures in place.
The basics are to have an SSL Certificate (Entrust, GlobalSign, Comodo) to encrypt the data in transit. Ensure only trusted plugins and regularly update them and your website. During the design stage, ensure role-based permission model implementation to control users’ access levels. Also, include the necessary typed and parameterized database queries to stop SQL injections (code injection hacking technique).
Use a reliable web hosting solution (LiquidWeb, Bluehost, Hostgator, Dreamhost) to ensure your marketplace website is surrounded by the necessary security measures and protected from hackers. There are other security measures that you can look into; the above are among the few you cannot ignore.
- Sucuri – This vendor offers a broad range of security tools that can safeguard to most extensive marketplace websites. They also lease security experts that can help fix compromised websites.
- Sectigo – Marketplace websites need better SSL certificates, and Sectigo offers an impressive array. Choose DV, OV, or EV SSL, depending on your needs.
- LiquidWeb – One of the web hosting brands known for performance, LiquidWeb also includes significant security advantages like a web application firewall, advanced virus scanner, and ServerSecure tool.
Relevant content is what makes your marketplace rock. Look into content that's relevant to the nature of your marketplace. You want to be among the top dogs, if not the number one. Your marketplace brand must stand out. Producing captivating content is one way to go about this.
There are digital content creation tools that help with content creation. They aid your marketing channels through relevant videos, podcasts, posts, social media, or articles that make a difference. Aside from designing graphics, they search for trending keywords for you to leverage and topics to write about.
Here are some popular content creation tools you can leverage:
- BuzzSumo is best for content research, discovery, and monitoring what is trending online.
- HitFilm is easy to use for professional-level video creation.
- Ahrefs is a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool with advanced keyword research and content marketing features.
Whatever content you intend to use, get it right from the start by making your website SEO-friendly. You want to rank high for people to find you online. Content marketing is an ongoing process if you want to stay relevant.
Your marketplace is only helpful if people know about it. Hence, promoting your marketplace website is essential to gain more traction. You should leverage social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and others) to get your marketplace out there. Also, find relevant influencers to create word-of-mouth marketing for your marketplace.
Email marketing is an old but good concept that I always appreciate. Many companies have successfully deployed the right email marketing strategies and reaped good returns. Affiliate marketing is another proven method to extend your reach. Leverage ads on TV, radio, and online. Run promotions and discounts to attract buyers.
Also, participate in workshops or visit fairs and conferences to connect with potential vendors and buyers.
Here are some popular marketing tools you can try:
- ConstantContact is an email marketing solution with great analytics and solid features.
- Buffer is a social media marketing tool to create and schedule your posts and measure social media performance.
- Refersion is an affiliate marketing tool to run affiliate marketing campaigns and grow your influencer marketing programs.
Marketing is continuous and must be correctly deployed at the right time to seize opportunities and grow your marketplace.
5. Launch and Growth
Once launched, you'll be busy with day-to-day operations. However, remember to perform the necessary measures to ensure your business grows. Monitoring your marketplace performance, analyzing user feedback, and improving your product offerings help improve your marketplace brand and expand your seller and buyer base.
Here are popular tools that can help you grow your marketplace:
- Google Analytics is a tool that analyzes your marketplace traffic and gives invaluable insight into your customers' behavior.
- SimilarWeb is a competitor analysis tool that shows your competitors' traffic, traffic sources, top organic keywords, top paid keywords, and other data points.
- WHSR Tool provides a behind-the-scenes peek at the technologies that empower your competitors' websites.
Kick Start Your Marketplace Website Today!
Marketplace websites can be challenging but extremely rewarding when done right. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, especially at the beginning. However, you'll find the remaining steps easier once you overcome the hurdle.
The above is a guide to help you create a thriving marketplace website that offers value to both your sellers and buyers.